One Sign of a Lean Culture: Kaizen or Get Out

I had lunch yesterday with a local client of ours. He owns a small factory that employs about 30 people. The products they make are fairly simple and the processes are not complex. They have made some big changes in the factory layout to improve workflow, they have removed some walls and everyone has gone through at least 8 hours of training in Lean principles and some hands-on exercises. They are doing good things and their business is growing. They are still a long way from Toyota.
One comment made at lunch today sounded to me like an encouraging sign of a Lean culture developing at this company. The workers have started to use participation in problem solving as a criterion for evaluating their new team members. In short, the workers have a policy of what I call “kaizen or get out” for new hires.
One of the first things we taught them was the Kaizen Newspaper tool. Each week they have what are called Kaizen Newspaper Meetings. Throughout the week everyone is free to identify problems and write them on a big piece of paper. These are located in a visible place in the shop. There are rules for what you can write and how you describe the problem. It should be clearly identifiable as a waste, so it requires some training and thought.

This system can be learned quickly and applied anywhere. This system works well so long as it’s followed. It takes perseverance and discipline for a small company without a lot of resources to keep finding and addressing problems while taking orders in and getting product out the door each day. As a sign of a Lean culture beginning to form, our client said that now when new workers are hired, the other team members watch carefully to see how the new person contributes to the Kaizen Newspaper process.
When a new worker is change averse or unwilling to participate in identifying and solving problems it becomes clear quickly. After a week or two of not participating in the process, the rest of the team asks them to “kaizen or get out”.
This is a fair statement since when they are hired they are asked to come to work willing to work flexibly and as a team. A lack of input or participation in the Kaizen Newspaper process comes from an attitude of “it’s not my job” or cynical attitudes such as “this is just another program” or “I’ve seen this tried before and it will pass”. Neither are true at this company and if people can’t recognize that and bring the right attitude to work after a week or two they are asked to “kaizen or get out”.
Still a long way to go, but I took this as a sign that our client has taken a sure step towards a Lean culture.